Open trigger finger release is an elective surgical procedure that serves as the gold standard treatment for trigger digits. The aim of this procedure is to release the A1 pulley in a setting in which the pulley is completely visible, ultimately allowing the flexor tendons that were previously impinged on to glide more easily through the tendon sheath. Although A1—or the first annular pulley—is the site of triggering in nearly all cases, alternative sites include A2, A3, and the palmar aponeurosis1.
Typically, the surgical procedure can be conducted in an outpatient setting and can vary in duration from a few minutes to half an hour. The surgical procedure involves the patient lying in the supine position with the operative hand positioned to the side. A small incision, ranging from 1 to 1.5 cm, is made on the volar side of the hand, just proximal to the A1 pulley in the skin crease in order to minimize scarring. Once the underlying neurovascular structures are exposed, the A1 pulley is released longitudinally at least to the level of the A2 pulley, followed by decompression of the flexor tendons that were previously impinged on. In order to confirm the release, the patient is asked to flex and extend the affected finger. The wound is irrigated and closed once the release is confirmed by both the patient and surgeon.
Aside from an open release, trigger finger can be treated nonoperatively with use of splinting and corticosteroid injection. Alternative operative treatments include a percutaneous release, which involves the use of a needle to release the A1 pulley2. Trigger finger can initially be treated nonoperatively. If unsuccessful, surgical intervention is considered the ultimate remedy2.
Because of their efficacious nature, corticosteroid injections are indicated preoperatively, particularly in non-diabetic patients3. Splinting is often an appropriate treatment option in patients who wish to avoid a corticosteroid injection1. However, if nonoperative treatment modalities fail to resolve pain and symptoms, surgical intervention is indicated2. In comparison with a percutaneous trigger finger release, an open release provides enhanced exposure and may be safer with respect to avoiding iatrogenic neurovascular injury2. However, in a randomized controlled trial, Gilberts et al. found no difference in the rates of recurrence when comparing open versus percutaneous trigger finger release4.
With reported success rates ranging from 90% to 100%, the open release of the A1 pulley is considered a common procedure associated with minimal complications2. Complications of the procedure were assessed in a retrospective analysis of 43 patients who underwent 78 open trigger releases performed by 1 surgeon. In that study, the authors reported a minor complication rate of 28% and a major complication rate of 3%5. Specifically, the 2 major complications noted by the authors were a synovial fistula and a proximal interphalangeal joint arthrofibrosis. In a larger study that included 543 patients who underwent 795 open trigger releases, the authors reported a minor complication rate of 9.6% and major complication rate of 2.4%6. Furthermore, the most common complications involved persistent stiffness, swelling, or pain. In that analysis, the authors suggested that sedation, male gender, and general anesthesia may be associated with greater risk6.
- At the discretion of the surgeon, a longitudinal, transverse, or oblique incision is made directly on top of the tendon at the level of the metacarpophalangeal joint, which is the preferred incision site because it provides maximal accessibility to the A1 pulley.
- Local anesthesia is preferred because it allows the patient and surgeon to confirm the release immediately.
- If conducting an open trigger release on the thumb, the surgeon should identify and protect the radial digital nerve, which courses directly over the A1 pulley.
Acronyms and Abbreviations:
- MCP = metacarpophalangeal